This week, Edmonds resident Nicki Chen is enjoying the achievement of having published her debut novel, “Tiger Tail Soup.” In celebration, Edmonds Bookshop (111 Fifth Ave. S. ) is holding a book signing for Nicki this Saturday, June 14 between noon and 1 o’clock.
Hearing this exciting news, Artfully Edmonds decided to learn as much as possible about the back story of this historical novel and one of our Edmonds authors.
Here is the exclusive interview of how the novel “Tiger Tail Soup” came to be written:
AE: Nicki, would you like to provide our readers with a synopsis of your just-published novel?
Nicki: In my debut novel, “Tiger Tail Soup”, the peaceful life of a young Chinese woman, An Lee, is thrown into turmoil when Japanese forces surround her island home in southeastern China and her husband disappears. It’s 1938. An Lee is pregnant and responsible for the safety of her young daughter, mother, mother-in-law, and maids. With the Japanese already in control of major cities from Peking to Nanking, An Lee learns that during wartime, civilians must be as brave and resourceful as soldiers.
AE: I understand that you and your husband, Eugene Chen, married in 1967, the year that the Supreme Court overturned anti-miscegenation laws, and interracial marriages were legalized in Washington State. Did you realize at the time that you and Eugene were leading the Civil Rights movement?
Nicki: I had no idea. I didn’t even know what miscegenation meant. Once, in the late ’60s, my husband said it might not be a good idea for us to travel in the South, and I laughed. I thought he was being paranoid.
Interracial marriages are fairly common now, but even then, I don’t remember experiencing any prejudice or problems. On the other hand, I’m not the type who focuses on that sort of thing.
AE: How much is Yu-Ming and An Lee’s love story the story of Eugene and Nicki Chen?
Nicki: For the most part, our stories are quite different. Yu-ming and An Lee are both Chinese. Although, now that I think of it, in the eyes of some people, Yu-ming was of mixed race since his mother was Mongolian. Not only that, she was a second wife. So I guess there’s some similarity after all.
AE: An Lee’s husband goes missing for seven years (or in another way he reappears after seven years). In Chinese numerology seven is a very lucky number and also represents “togetherness”. As the author you could have separated the couple for 9 years, or 3 years –
a) Was the choice of “7” intentional?
b) If so, have you used other symbolism in writing “Tiger Tail Soup”?
Nicki: The fact that Yu-ming returns after seven years is a lucky accident. “Tiger Tail Soup” is a historical novel, and, although the characters, incidents, and dialog are fictional, the historical period in which it takes place is real. The Japanese actually did invade Amoy in March of 1938, and the war, which became part of World War II, ended when Emperor Hirohito surrendered to the Allied Forces after we dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So to make the novel historically accurate, I needed to have him gone for seven years.
The most obvious symbol is in the title of the book. The tiger tail soup An Lee and her family ate during a time of hunger and starvation is a symbol of all the other privations they suffered and their will to survive.
AE: Did your book “surprise” you in any ways i.e. did you decide to have a well-behaved character step out of line mid-writing? Or, does someone die whom you originally envision making it all the way through the novel?
Nicki: I suppose the biggest surprise was how, as I wrote, the minor characters became so real and interesting. An Lee had lived her entire life on the small island of Kulangsu, so she had school friends and family friends, former teachers and tutors, each with his or her own personality and story. For some strange and fortuitous reason, an overly emotional poet and a clever, brash writer, friends of her old tutor, materialized during the writing and became a fun and somewhat important part of her story.
AE: Are you affiliated with the Chinese-American culture either locally, or in the virtual world of the Internet, Facebook, or book clubs?
Nicki: During the past year I’ve become acquainted with quite a few bloggers who write about the intersection of Chinese and Western cultures. Many of them are women married to Chinese nationals and living in China.
AE: I understand from your blog, Nicki Chen Writes that you put Tiger Tail Soup aside for a number of years. What compelled you to make the push to have it published?
Nicki: Two things. First, my oldest daughter (who always does everything quickly) encouraged me to finally get the book published. Second, the world of publishing has changed in the past few years. Now writers have several viable options for publishing their books beyond the large publishing houses. And since some members of my writing group had publishing experience, I felt confident I could follow their examples.
AE: What Edmonds-area writer and author’s resources helped you develop your writing skills that you would you like to give a shout out to?
Nicki: Although I received my MFA in Creative Writing from a college on the other side of the country, Vermont College of Fine Arts, I also took night classes at the University of Washington. And since moving to Edmonds in 2003, I’ve been the beneficiary of the excellent writers’ workshops held every year during the first weekend in October at the Frances Anderson Cultural Center. Write on the Sound (WOTS) is the perfect way to stay in touch with other writers and brush up on my skills.
AE: How are you planning to promote “Tiger Tail Soup?”
Nicki: The first thing I did when my book became available in late May was to tell my friends, post on Facebook, and then write a blog post about it.
This Saturday, June 14, I’ll be at the Edmonds Bookshop between noon and about one o’clock. I’m looking forward to signing books there and chatting with people who stop by.
AE: So there! You’ve been invited! This Saturday, between noon and 1 o’clock would be a perfect day to stroll downtown Edmonds and pop into Edmonds Bookshop to meet Nicki Chen as she holds her first book signing for “Tiger Tail Soup.”
— By Emily Hill